tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly WHUT February 13, 2012 7:30am-8:00am EST
>> welcome, i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. familiar social issues led the religion news this week. in washington, the obama administration worked to resolve the huge controversy surrounding its decision not to exempt religiously affiliated organizations like charities and hospitals from its policy that under the new healthcare law, employers would have to provide their employees with insurance
republicans conditioned candidates for president weighed in. mitt romney became testimony latest gop candidate to approve the president of waging an assault on religion. newt gingrich, rick santorum have launched similar attacks. on tuesday support from religious and social conservatives help santorum win the missouri primary and caucuses in minnesota and colorado. following those victories, santorum traveled to texas where he spoke to more than 100 christian ministers about his catholic faith. in california, an appeals court ruled against proposition 8, the state's ban on gay marriage passed by referendum in 2008. the court thus upheld a decision by a federal judge who had struck down the ban saying it violated the equal rights of gays and lesbians. supporters of prop 8 say they
will appeal again and the case could go to the supreme court. several religious conservatives condemned the court's decision. others however called it a victory for equality. also this week, washington state passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. the governor plans to sign it into law next week. we want to explore the contraceptives debate further. >> that's what the big debate was. the original policy allowed exemptions for most churches.
they felt like they were being forced to pay for something their church said was wrong. they say they are accommodating giving women access to affordable preventative health care which includes contraceptive services. that was the core principle and they say it accommodates the religious liberty concern. >> they also called it a public health issue. >> reporter: yes, and they say that you know they want women to have access to these contraceptive services as a matter of public health so now the insurance companies will directly offer those to the employees and the religiously affiliated institutions won't have to provide those or pay for it. >> or refer? >> reporter: or refer people to it. it would be the responsibility of the insurance company and so you know this is their way of
getting around it. there were a lot of people in the religious community, especially in the mainline protestant community, that said they supported the original mandate but for you know some people, including moderate to liberal catholics, they had a problem with it. >> and so is it all solved now? is everybody happy? >> reporter: well, there were a lot of hard feelings that were generated in all of this and again this notion that the obama administration is in some way at war with religion or at war with the catholic church. that was the slogan that was out there as we've reported a lot of the republican candidates certainly jumped on that some might say, the president says, you know, cynically for political gain. that issue's still out there. is there some sort of, you know, growing secularism or attack on religious exercise in this country? and so i think the administration does have, you know, some repairing to do. a lot of moderate and liberal catholics who supported this president who supported the
health care bill when it was going through congress, they felt a little betrayed. i'm hearing from people who say, you know, yeah the majority of catholic women may use birth control and yeah a lot of people disagree maybe with the church's policy but this issue is bigger than that, in their view. and so, you know, for them they were pleased that the administration made this compromise but there was some damage that was done. >> and we will be hearing more about this as the campaign goes on. >> reporter: well, certainly i think a lot of the republicans aren't going to let this go. they are going to keep at it. they see it as a good issue, a good issue to battle the president with. >> kim lawton, many thanks. in egypt, despite sharp protests by the u.s., the military government has charged 19 americans with what it calls illegal activities and plans to
put on trial the six who are still in the country. the americans were in egypt promoting democracy and human rights. those were the values celebrated by the crowds of young people last year who overthrew president mubarak. but in the election that followed, it was not the young protesters who won. islamists took nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliament, the muslim brotherhood alone got almost half. if the military government hands over power, will the islamists try to impose strict muslim law? we have a special report today from kate seelye, a longtime correspondent in the middle east, now vice president of the middle east institute, in washington, a non-partisan educational foundation. >> reporter: on the outskirts of cairo, members and supporters of egypt's muslim brotherhood celebrate the start of a new political era. with nearly half the seats in parliament, the party is set to wield significant influence in egypt.
newly elected deputy azza al jarf calls egypt's first free election in decades historic. the brotherhood has been waiting a long time for this moment. formed in 1928 to promote islam, it was later banned in egypt and its leaders repeatedly imprisoned. but as secular autocrats have collapsed from tunisia to egypt, islamist parties have stepped into the political vacuum, and groups like the brotherhood are now riding a wave of popular support with their calls for social and economic justice. on election day in a poor cairo suburb, muslim brotherhood candidate mohammed beltagy spelled out the party's goals. >> we were oppressed and intimidated for 80 years, but today we are about to embark on a long journey to meet the needs of the people. >> reporter: beltagy and his party weren't the only islamists voted into parliament.
the noor party, which advocates a more fundamentalist agenda, won nearly a quarter of the seats. together, egypt's islamists make up more than 70% of the new parliament. liberal and youth parties account for the rest. blogger mahmoud salem, who ran and lost in a district of cairo, says youth candidates like himself didn't stand a chance against the better known and funded islamists. >> the issue is that if you're a party that only started three months ago you don't have the chance to create the groundwork that is necessary. you know, as opposed to the muslim brotherhood who's been around for 80 years, you know. so people vote for whoever they see in front of them. >> reporter: it was young, secular egyptians like salem who sparked last year's protests with their demands for justice and freedom. they were been sidelined in these elections, but salem say he has no regrets. >> now we get to play the role of the opposition, which is so much more fun, you know. hey, islamists, you wanted power? fantastic. i want social justice now. get it done. >> reporter: but others worry democracy has been hijacked by
parties they say have little respect for personal rights and >> it is scary on many issues, especially the social issues, minorities, christians. also the status of women, civil liberties, personal liberties in general. what are they going to do with them? >> reporter: sadek says egyptians have legitimate concerns about this parliament's intentions, given the poor human rights records of islamist-run countries like sudan and iran. >> islam has many variety of readings and many interpretations. if they are going to adopt a moderate version, we all support them, but if they are going to adopt a very strict interpretation and they want to impose it on others, we'll have trouble. >> reporter: but in this working-class cairo neighborhood, shoppers have other things on their mind. many are struggling to get by. at this local food bank shoppers are snap up macaroni and lentils at wholesale prices provided by the muslim brotherhood. nearly half of egypt's more than
80 million citizens live on less than two dollars a day, and economic despair fueled last year's anti-government protests. for decades, the brotherhood has provided for the poor, offering free health care, education, and other services. now voters are hoping that the brotherhood's history of charitable work and its promises to improve people's lives will lead to real change. >> the past government was dishonest. we hope the future will bring reforms. >> reporter: egypt faces many challenges. buildings burned during last year's protest are reminders of the country's ongoing instability. investment is down dramatically, as is tourism, which employs more than 10% of the population. unemployment is surging. corruption is rife. given the country's deep problems, the brotherhood's leaders say their priorities will be rebuilding egypt's economy and infrastructure, not pushing religion.
ossama yassin is a muslim brotherhood deputy in parliament. >> we don't want what's known as a religious state. we want a modern, civil, democratic state belonging to the people. >> reporter: sensitive to concerns about an islamist agenda, the brotherhood has been moderating its religious language and emphasizing its respect for the rights of other religions and groups. today, democracy offers them a chance to press for part shl religious legislation. this party seeks social justice and the strict application of
i islamic law. >> the reason i want to make it segregated so i want to make the woman feel more comfortable, you understand me? don't look at islam that we're bringing a problem. no, we bring the solution, not the problem, okay? >> reporter: hard-line salafist views have proliferated on religious channels here. it's not uncommon to hear preachers like yasser borhami, a founder of the noor party, accuse christians and jews of being infidels. this kind of talk deeply worries egypt's coptic christian community of more than four million. over the past several years, attacks on their community have grown. churches have been burned and copts killed. salafists have been blamed for inciting sectarian violence, a charge shaalan denies. you acknowledge that there have been growing attacks on christians in this country? >> well, i don't want to see it this way. it's not because of religion. it's because of lots of other things, you know? >> reporter: the noor party's positions have been criticized by the muslim brotherhood.
the two islamist parties are rivals, but in cairo cafes where egyptians debate the future, some worry that noor's ultraconservative agenda may pull the muslim brotherhood to the right. the best protection for minority and women's rights lies in the drafting of egypt's new constitution, according to coptic community leader mona makram ebeid, who is also an advisor to egypt's ruling military authority. >> i think the biggest battle now that we all must focus on is the constitution. >> reporter: makram ebeid says parliament will appoint an assembly this spring to draft the constitution. she insists it must address the concerns of all of egypt's communities. >> i hope that the majority of the muslim brothers, who are much more moderate and much more professional, will be able to have a fair constitution which takes into consideration the rights of every individual in this country, of every citizen in the country, whether it's
economic rights, social rights, political rights, religious rights, cultural rights. >> reporter: in tahrir square, where the protests began just over a year ago, demonstrators continue to demand those rights. democracy is very fragile here. egypt is now run by a heavy-handed military which took over when mubarak stepped down. the generals say they'll transfer power after presidential elections this summer, but some have doubts. nevertheless, islamists long banned in egyptian political life have new responsibilities and a new sense of accountability. and makram ebeid believes that will have a moderating effect. >> so i don't think that they will be able so much to impose their own views or change the
personality of egypt as they wish, because i think that this will make them lose their popularity. the more there is an opening to democracy, the more the process of democratization will be, will go ahead, and the more they will come more to the center. >> reporter: while some might disagree, few dispute the importance of egypt's democratic opening. the test will be safeguarding the process so that future voters can choose to re-elect their parliamentarians or not. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm kate seelye in cairo. meanwhile, a blend of religion and state in tennessee where young christian teachers in public schools in memphis are trying to get poor children on track to college. the teachers insist they do not proselytize. but they do say god motivates them and helps them succeed. bob faw has the story. >> all right, i am going to give you five seconds to be settled.
>> reporter: in memphis public schools, where only a small percent of the students go on to college, kristin cornwell tells all her fourth graders they can be "college-ready." >> the expectations haven't been set before necessarily even that high, and they live up to it. one of the biggest delights is when i hear kids sitting in their groups, and they'll whisper to eacother, "get college-ready," and they'll sit up straight, and they know exactly what that looks like, and they want that for themselves. >> reporter: in a public school system where failure is common -- >> where's the right angle in that diagram? >> reporter: erin svoboda's goal is that 100% of her students pass the state math exam. >> a lot of my students are a little bit jaded, and they maybe feel a little bit even cheated. they understand that maybe they haven't received the education that they should have. so i hope to maybe renewing their faith in their education and the schools and in what they can do with that later. >> reporter: in this poor neighborhood, where reading
scores are abysmally low, katelyn woodard praises her students for trying to find the right answer. >> it's by itself beautiful. good job, demetria. >> good job, demetria! >> reporter: katelyn, erin, and kristin are graduates of mtr-memphis teacher residency, a three-year-old program designed to give poor inner city students the same opportunities as students in wealthier areas. david montague is the director of the school. >> it's absolutely an injustice, because there's such a large academic achievement gap between students that are generally poor and minority relative to students who generally live in the suburbs and who are white. >> reporter: funded mostly by foundations and private contributions, this program takes college graduates and gives them housing, training, and tuition, even awards them a master's degree. in return, they agree to teach in an inner city school here for four years. the program is faith-based. >> what we're doing here we're doing within a christian context.
we believe in god's word a revealed in scripture, and that faith informs how you think about students. it informs your efficacy. it informs your belief that every child can learn. >> reporter: there is something about this work that draws people of faith. erin, for example, planned a career as a hospital pharmacist until her faith made her decide otherwise. >> i feel like this is absolutely where god wants me to be. i had much different ambitions for my life and much different aspirations. but i feel like the lord kept putting this in my path. >> remember what this page is called? what's this page called? >> reporter: katelyn also sees what she is doing in the classroom as a kind of ministry. >> how i want to live out my faith in the classroom is by constantly looking at the lord and looking at how he deals with the world and reflect that in my
classroom. if i treat them with that respect and that love that i really believe the lord has for everyone, then they feel that. >> reporter: is there any such thing as an unteachable child? >> no. >> reporter: to these teachers their students are not potential dropouts, but god's creatures. >> i've seen kids who everyone said, "there's no way. there's no way that child is going to be successful." and i've seen them overcome that when someone believes in them, when someone takes the time to sit with them and work with them and pull the assets that we can see from them, and they start to believe, "i can do this." >> what we still have particularly in urban education is what some people often call soft racism or soft bigotry, which is this idea of teachers at times having very low expectations of their students because of the race or class that they come from. so what we're trying to do is say absolutely every single child can learn, and we're going to have very, very high expectations for those children. >> reporter: in this school, presided over by principal rosalind davis, the teachers from mtr have already had a huge
impact. >> they've changed the culture of the school. their approach to the work, their work ethic, and their strategies, the way they interact with the students. >> reporter: because, says davis, these teachers with strong faith bring something many other teachers often lack. >> sometimes what's missing from a teacher's belief system is a belief that something supernatural and miraculous could happen in schools. they might get knocked down one day, but they come back fighting the next because they prayed about it, they reflected and, you know, they get up. >> reporter: don't be misled. the mtr program is not some roundabout way to impose doctrine, much less to proselytize, as montague explains.
>> if you do a bible study, and you explain why jesus is the son of god and the only way to heaven, what you're doing is you're creating a very unhealthy and non-safe environment for every child in that classroom that doesn't come from a christian family, okay, and so you're inhibiting your children, your students from being able to learn. >> i might not be able to necessarily tell them that i believe that they're god's children and that he loves them, but i'm trying to show that love to them. >> your faith isn't something that you walk around beating people on the head with. people should be able to tell that you're a christian without you saying a word. >> reporter: it is grindingly difficult work. children coming here test well below students in more affluent areas. what is accomplished in the classroom is often offset by what they experience outside. dealing with all that is a real test of faith. you're swimming upstream. >> that's what it feels like most days, yes. >> reporter: your faith keeps you going? >> yes, i will be honest. i don't know how other people do it. without that or motivating you have no ideal how anyone would willingly wake up and come to this every day. i don't mean to make it sound
that terrible, but it is hard. >> reporter: the program is so new it is hard to measure its success. but test scores are climbing, and students are responding. she pushes you? >> yes. >> reporter: you don't mind the discipline? you like it? >> no, because it helps me more so i can understand more. >> reporter: the goal up there says 100%. so she really inspires you? >> yes, actually, for me she is one of our best teachers. >> reporter: and if the cynic were to argue that here they can make only the smallest of inroads, that progress will be scant and short-lived. that goals like erin's 100% target are not likely to be reached -- if so, their faith, they insist, will not be diminished. >> i walk here in knowing that i come with my five loaves and two fish, my meager here's my best that i have, and god's going to have to multiply that. whether he chooses to do that now or 20 years from now in
urban education, that's up to him. >> what you come to learn through doing this job and through your faith is that there's a deeper joy and peace and contentment than you could ever imagine that comes from knowing that you're doing god's work. >> reporter: as they answer a calling and live their faith one student, one classroom at a time. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," this is bob faw in memphis, tennessee. in orange county california, new owners for the crystal cathedral, long a landmark of american mega churches. after the cathedral ministries declared bankruptcy, they sold the building to the catholic diocese of orange for $57.5 million. crystal cathedral ministries can use the building for up to three
more years and church leaders say they will continue their weekly "hour of power" broadcast. the catholic bishop has plans to rename the cathedral and has asked the public for ideas. his only requirement, the name must refer in some way to jesus christ. finally, on our calendar this week, tuesday is valentine's day, named for two st. valentines who were martyred in the second and third centuries. saint valentine's day was not associated with romantic love until the middle ages when geoffrey chaucer and others made the enduring connection. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smart phones. there's also much more on our web site. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org.